Transportation Planning Casebook/Stationless Bikesharing in Sydney
Stationless bike-sharing, also known as dockless bike-sharing, is a type of bicycle-sharing system/bike-share scheme (BSS) which does not require users to return the rental bike to a specific station. The next user locates the bike with a global positioning system (GPS) incorporated in the bike-sharing mobile application. The same app often has other relevant functions: online transaction, user identification and maps etc. BSS is designed to solve the last-mile problem in transport when commuters need to move from the nearest transport hub to the final destination points. Currently, the largest market of stationless bike-sharing is in China. Since July 2017, four bike-sharing companies have entered Sydney, namely Reddy Go, oBike, Ofo and Mobike.
Just like most bicycle systems, stationless BSS focuses on urban transport environment as a short-distance point-to-point transport mode. It has inherited the economic and environmental benefits of bicycles as it substitutes car trips. It can potentially reduce fuel consumption and have positive health implications. Lower carbon emission would benefit the urban environment. It arguably improves traffic congestion as it reduced the number of cars in the road network. Unlike the previous generation of docked bike-sharing, stationless BSS is more convenient for users to find and park a bike. However, there are also associated problems such as vandalism.
Annotated List of Actors
- Bike-sharing operators: The following table shows a list of the current bike-sharing operators in Sydney. These companies operate stationless BSS in multiple cities in China with much larger share-bike fleets. They are responsible for the distribution, management and maintenance of the share-bikes which are properties of the enterprises. The aim of these privately owned companies is to make profits and would proactively encourage more use of share-bikes against other transport alternatives. They would not like additional management requirements or investment costs which lower the profitability of the bike-sharing business. Competitions between the operators can improve quality of service as well as to limit their control over prices. They have obligations as companies and should cooperate with the Australian government.
|Name of Operators||Initial Time of Deployment||Initial Number of Bikes||Current Number of Bikes|
|Ready Go||7-8 July 2017||160||6000 Planned by Christmas 2017|
|oBike||9 August 2017||1000||1000|
- Share-bike users: The share-bike users can be separated into frequent/active users and infrequent users. It is assumed that they do not own private bicycles which are close substitutes for share-bikes. There is a myriad of reasons for them to engage share-bikes, to replace other travel modes in short-distance trips, for recreational purposes or to have a fun experience with friends. Frequent users are expected to support the development of share-bikes so they would enjoy a higher quality of service. However, the users would prefer lower prices
- Government organisations: Departments under the government such as the city councils and transport authorities are responsible for the holistic transport development and management in Sydney. Their interests lie in the social and political impacts of bike-sharing rather than the economic ones (which is not entirely irrelevant). They would support bike-sharing to obtain the environmental and economic benefits of bicycles as a form of substitute for private cars. However, they would not like share-bikes to replace public transports which carry more passengers. They also have to concern about the safety of road users (not just the cyclists), parking of share-bikes, people's opinions towards bike-sharing and infrastructures etc.
- Other transport mode users: This group comprises of people who use other transport modes. For example, private bike owners, private car owners, bus users and even pedestrians. This group can be divided into those who have significant conflicts over road demand with share-bike users and those who do not. The former would be against the expansion of bike-sharing which would take more spaces from them. The later can be considered as part of the spectators (see below). Although private bike owners might support the development of bike-sharing because they must abide by the same road rules as cyclists and may benefit from bicycle-related infrastructures, a certain degree of competition for parking spaces or road spaces could still arise.
- Vandals/bike thieves: This group of people conduct illegal activities to damage the share-bikes or attached equipment owned by the operators. They are either strongly against the expansion of bike-sharing due to personal reasons or strongly supports it (for more illegal profits). Their attitudes can be obfusticating but their actions clearly lead to loss of profits and increase in maintenance cost to the bike-sharing companies. Share-bike users are also negatively affected because of a decrease in the availability of functional share-bikes.
- Spectators/the public: The spectators are general residents in the Sydney area. They do not satisfy the characteristics of the groups listed above. There are mixed opinions within this group of people, some of which may consider themselves as potential users and may become infrequent users sometime while others may think share-bikes have obstructed the streets and polluted the city views.
- Tourists: Although not investigated in this case study, tourists in Sydney have the potential to become share-bike users if they have similar experiences in regions where they come from. It is highly unlikely for them to buy new bicycles if their visits are short-term.
The following steps of operation are summarised from Reddy Go.
- Locate the bike: Use an app to locate nearby share-bikes. If a bike is already beside the user, this step can be skipped.
- Unlock the bike: Either scan the QR code on the bike or use the auto-generated physical password to unlock the bike. Noted that the unlocking process requires an internet connection to verify the user's identity. The physical password system also requires Bluetooth to verify the proximity of the user.
- Ride the bike: User rides the bike to the destination and is charged based on time. There are different tiers of price according to different pricing policies, some of which include a pricing cap. Users are bound by NSW road rules. Some mandatory requirements include to ride with a certified helmet, at least one hand on the bike at all time and ride on the left.
- Lock the Bike: When the user arrives at the destination, he/she should find a suitable location to lock the bike to finish the ride. The location should not be on a footpath or any other places which could obstruct pedestrian/vehicular movements.
Prompt re-deployment is crucial for a sustainable and profitable BSS. Since users tend to park the bikes randomly around the suburbs, operators would not have sufficient supply of bikes at high-demand areas. Share-bikes would be more readily accessible to users if they can be re-deployed daily. In addition, it is required by the City of Sydney council that the operating companies should "monitor the location of bikes at least daily" and redistribute the bikes proactively to prevent areas from building up an excessive amount of bikes. Daily re-deployment can also effectively prevent bikes from impacting traffic or being damaged at nights. Finally, having BSS lined perfectly in designated locations would likely improve the street view and improve individuals' impression of both the local community and BSS.
In the process of re-deployment, the staff on the retrieving team would use a special administrating app on the smartphone to locate bikes around the suburb area. Then the team, usually consisting of 2-3 people, would collect the bike(s) with a van (capacity around 20) and re-deploy them to designated locations. Before taking the bikes, the staff would evaluate the likelihood of the bike being used in the following days. If the bike is highly likely to be used in the next few days and not blocking the traffic, the team would proceed to the next bike in their system. If the bike is unlikely to be used in the following days (based on the user history and location) or it is blocking pedestrian/vehicle lanes, the team would retrieve the bike and move the bike and other collected bikes to the most suitable location. If the bike is not visually accessible to the staff, they can activate a siren system on the bike to follow the sound. This technique is particularly useful when the bike is in a dark environment or in private territories where the staff are not authorised to access. The staff are required to monitor the locations of bikes daily and rearrange the bikes to avoid traffic congestion. The re-deploying process can be summarised in the following flowchart:
The initial location of deployment for the stationless bike is hard to find since there are several companies and each of them has various locations for initial distribution. However, the locations of re-deployment can be easily summarised with the characteristics stated below and it can be assumed that the initial locations would not be significantly different.
From the perspective of an operator, a place will be selected as a candidate for re-deployment which:
- has a medium to high mobilising population
- has a clear yard for parking
- is a parking space approved by City of Sydney
- has an easy access to a station (bus, train)
From the perspective of the council, the locations have to meet the following requirements in the Inner Sydney bike share guidelines:
- Bikes must be parked in an upright position and not placed on footpaths that are narrow, or where they could pose a safety hazard.
- Bike placement must not interfere with pedestrian access or amenity. Bikes should be placed kerbside away from the building. Operators will educate customers on the impacts of bike placement on the mobility and vision impaired.
- Bikes may be placed near public bike racks but rack space should be left free for regular bicycles that need to be locked to a fixed point.
- Operators must have the geofencing capability for preferred parking and exclusion zones in high traffic areas, such as sections of waterfront or for large events where public safety is an issue.
With these characteristics, a train station at non-CBD area or a main rendezvous point in a university would be ideal. For example, Green square station can be (and it is) a location of re-deployment for it has a large number of daily commuters with the suburbs around the station: Zetland, Waterloo and Alexandria; is close to CBD and has lower real estate prices. The station does not provide parking space for private vehicles so that commuters usually either walk or use bicycle/scooter to get to the station. With the emergence of BSS, commuters can easily travel from their homes to the station without worrying where to park the bike or how to carry a bike during peak hours.
Noted that although Central Station or Town Hall station has extremely high population density and high mobilising population, they are too crowded for BSS to deploy and would cause a significant impact on the traffic. Therefore, they are not selected as locations of re-deployment.
The locations of re-deployment are not fixed and being constantly updated using Big Data. The operators can use the GPS information provided by users to better plan the locations with higher demands. This method has experimentally proved useful and known as Crowd Planning.
Timeline of Events
- On 7-8 July 2017, Reddy Go deployed 160 share-bikes in central business districts. A total of 1500 bikes were introduced in July and later expanded to 2000. Reddy Go had plans to expand to 6000 bikes by Christmas in 2017. It costs $1.99 per 30 minutes.
- oBike placed 1000 bikes in Sydney in July 2017.
- Ofo deployed 600 bikes in Sydney in October 2017, including 200 in Waverley and 200 in the Inner West council area. Ofo charges $2 per hour.
- Mobike dropped 500 bikes in Green Square area of Sydney in November 2017.
- In December 2017, An alliance of six Sydney councils has imposed new guidelines on dockless bike sharing companies. These guidelines require the four bike-sharing companies to properly manage and regulate share-bike uses.
The cycling policies in Australia also apply to bike-sharing. Australia has road rules in cycling regarding the helmet, light and other equipment.
Australia is the first country in which wearing a bike helmet is mandatory. Most of the early statistics on the effectiveness of bicycle helmets came from Australia. Their effectiveness is still controversial. From 1990 to 1992, various laws were enacted in Australian States and territories, requiring cyclists to ride with a bicycle helmet.
According to Australian Road Rules, Bicycle riders must be mounted safely and fixed on the head of the rider with an approved bicycle helmet. A passenger on a bicycle that is moving, or is stationary but not parked, must wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on the passenger’s head unless the passenger is:
(a) a paying passenger on a three or four-wheeled bicycle; or
(b) exempt from wearing a bicycle helmet under another law of this jurisdiction.
Equipment on a Bicycle
According to Australian Road Rules, One must not ride a bicycle without:
(a) at least 1 effective brake; and
(b) a bell, a horn, or a similar warning device.
Riding at Night
According to Australian Road Rules, cyclists must not ride at night or ride in dangerous places. Weather conditions cause visibility to decrease unless bicycles or riders show:
(a) a blinking or stable white light, clearly visible. At least 200 meters away from the front of the bicycle;
(b) at clearly visible flickering or stable red light. At least 200 meters from the back of the bicycle; and
(c) when the vehicle's low light is projecting light on the low light, the red reflective cover can be clearly seen at least 50 meters away from the rear part of the bicycle.
The road law in cycling by the Australia government ensures the safety of cyclists. However, they may not be as beneficial to the share-bike companies. For example, when a cyclist only rides 3 minutes to purchase some groceries near home in the evening, he/she has the obligation to wear a helmet and turn on the lights. These tedious steps are more troublesome than walking to the shop. Moreover, a helmet may be lost or stolen. If the cyclist is in a hurry to ride to somewhere but the helmet is lost or stolen, he/she must use other transport modes rather than a bike. From the perspective of bike-sharing companies, bikes with GPS systems are easy to trace and theft can be prevented, but helmets are more difficult to monitor. Installing GPS on helmets would double the cost, therefore, it is infeasible and costly to prevent loss or theft of helmets. Without a helmet, even with an available bike nearby, the user still cannot use the bike. When a cyclist is riding without wearing a helmet and caught by the police, they would receive a $325 fine.
According to a study by Rissel (2002), many potential riders won't be in the way of riding. A total of 105 randomly selected adults in Sydney, Australia were surveyed by telephone, and the current driver's license was obtained. Less than half of the sample (43%) is aware of the recent changes in Australian road rules. Most respondents (76%) reported that the risk of bicycles was higher, although those who had recently cycled on the road reported a significant reduction in the likelihood of these dangerous concerns.
There are several road types on which riding a bicycle is allowed in NSW.
At roundabouts, bicycle riders are allowed to turn right from the left-hand lane. When passing each exit, bicycle riders must give way to any vehicle leaving the roundabout.
When riding side-by-side, bicycle riders are allowed to ride two abreast, but not more than 1.5 metres apart.
Transit lanes are used for vehicles containing a certain number of people. These lanes may also be used by buses, taxis, hire cars, motorcycles, bicycle riders and emergency vehicles, no matter how many people are in them.
When a bicycle lane is marked on the road and has bicycle lane signs, bicycle riders must use it unless it is impracticable to do so. Although these lanes are for bicycle riders, cars may use them for not more than 50 metres to enter or leave the road at a driveway or intersection.
Bus lanes can also be used by bicycle riders, motorcyclists, taxis, hire cars and vehicles operated by, or under the direction of transport authorities.
Across NSW, shared paths can be used by both pedestrians and bicycle riders. Always travel at a speed that is safe for you and the pedestrians you encounter.
Children under 12 years of age can ride on a footpath. An adult rider who is supervising a bicycle rider under 12 may also ride with the young rider on the footpath. Bicycle riders are allowed to ride on footpaths where indicated by signs.
Narrative of the Case
Shanghai is the financial centre of China and has a large number of share-bikes. As of the end of 2017, Shanghai has more than 1.5 million share-bikes on the streets, approximately one for every 16 residents. The price of share-bikes is very low; the month pass for Mobike costs 20 Yuan (approximately AS$4.00). Bike-sharing companies occasionally offer promotions so that the price could be even lower. The emergence of share-bikes in 2016 effectively solved the last-mile transportation needs. Residents no longer need to wait for more than ten minutes to take another one-minute bus ride or sometimes walk home for thirty minutes when public transport options are closed. Although BSS has made it easier for people to travel, many problems have arisen.
The number of bikes in Chinese cities has grown exponentially in a short time. Storage of share-bikes requires a tremendous use of the public space, especially in spaces near residual areas and transport hubs. The number of bikes available has risen far beyond demand. For example, London currently has 11,000 share-bikes; its population is only one-third that of Shanghai's. The redundant bikes on Chinese streets have led to clogged sidewalks no longer fit for pedestrian movements and piles of mangled bikes that have been illegally parked. Even in Shanghai itself, the supply has outstripped demand and the bikes are unevenly distributed throughout the city. The supply of bikes in the downtown area is too saturated. However, residents in the suburbs need share-bikes more than residents in urban areas because public transportation is often inadequate in suburban areas.
Bike-sharing was introduced to Sydney in 2017. There are currently 4 bike-sharing companies in Sydney: Reddy Go, oBike, Ofo, and Mobike. Data showed that 18 percent of Sydney riders thought that dockless bikes were a good system and would use one of the new bike-share schemes, and 43 percent thought they were good but would not use it themselves. Most residents initially held a positive attitude towards bike-sharing schemes because they offer an alternative transportation choice.
However, in 2018, there was a change in the public opinion when these bike-sharing companies distributed bikes across Sydney. The Sydney Morning Herald even argued that "Dockless bike-sharing is great on paper, but not long for this world." The main problem is that all the bike-sharing companies lack sufficient management and the sudden increase of bikes has caused visual pollution on the streets. Many share-bikes are broken but are still on the streets. Furthermore, some bikes are abandoned in lakes, on trees, or have even been disassembled. In addition, the law requires bike riders to wear an approved helmet. Many bikes are fully operational, but they cannot be used because no helmets are attached. Recently, companies have been trying to solve the problem by adding extra helmets to the market for the users to ensure there are enough helmets. As can be seen in the picture taken in front of the Fisher library,more than 1 helmets were intentionally places on the sharing bikes.
The emergence of bike sharing has indeed brought some convenience to residents. However, it has also added hidden traffic risks and damaged the city's cleanliness. Because these bike-sharing schemes are commercial operations, the city does not have the responsibility to manage them. To deal with the chaos that has arisen because of bike-sharing, the NSW government developed a series of rules for bike-sharing companies and gave them three months to comply. The rules are as follows:
- move bikes in dangerous locations within three hours and be proactive in the redistribution of bikes;
- staff a repair phone service between 6 am and 9 pm;
- unlock bikes for council staff when requested so that they can move bikes with more ease;
- deactivate broken bikes immediately and remove them within a week;
- educate users about correct bike parking and the possibility of heavy penalties for offences such as not wearing a helmet;
- install bells, helmets, front and rear lights, a rear reflector and a sturdy kickstand on all bikes;
- have public liability insurance;
- send relevant data, including the number of registered users and trip origins and destinations to councils whenever they ask to assist transport and urban planning;
- offer incentives to customers to relocate bikes in built-up areas;
- move inactive bikes after 11 to 14 days or they are to be impounded and a fee will be charged. If the fee isn't paid, the bike is recycled.
Problems of Bike-sharing
Bike theft and vandalism have been the two most significant problems in the management of share-bikes since its birth (the White Bike in Amsterdam deployed in 1965). Although technological advancements have effectively prevented bike theft with modern payment collection and user identification technologies, vandalism becomes peculiarly problematic for stationless share-bikes. It is because these bikes are scattered around different locations without the need to be returned to a station; thus, a higher level of exposure, as well as difficulty in monitoring, make them susceptible to intentional damages. In most cases, people who intentionally damage the bicycles are not direct users but irrelevant parties who have no tangible gains from their actions.
CRIMES ACT 1900 - SECT 195 Destroying or damaging property (1) (a) states that “A person who intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages property belonging to another or to that person and another is liable to imprisonment for 5 years.”
Incidents of bike vandalism are often reported on social media. They are to purposely inflict loss on bike-sharing companies probably to protest bike-sharing, to make illegal gains by removing some bike parts for sale or they can be purely impulsive. There are cases where bikes are dumped into rivers, on trees or even dissembled into parts. Sometimes the lock, plates and QR codes are blocked or disfigured to prevent any user from using the bike. On rare occasions, the GPS system on the bike is also damaged and results in a permanent loss of the share-bike. There are news reports of such incidents internationally in Singapore and China. A serious case of vandalism is also reported in Sydney, the brake cable is sabotaged so that any rider would have significant safety risks if he/she fails to realise the damage. The problem of vandalism is seriously affecting share-bike operations and user experiences. Effective mitigation measures should be designed and discussed.
Bike Littering and Geofencing
Bike littering is another common problem encountered by most contemporary stationless bike-sharing systems around the world. At the end of journeys, share-bike users often park their bikes at inappropriate locations like the centre of footpaths, bus stations and places which may obstruct road use. Similar incidents have been reported in Singapore , Sydney and other cities.
Geofencing is a virtual zoning which creates a geographic boundary using GPS technology so that a mobile device (a share-bike in this case) responds to entering or leaving of the area defined by the boundary. It is used in Singapore to regulate parking of share-bikes. Users who fail to park their share-bikes within the designated area would be charged for their “irresponsible” behaviour. The Ofo bike-sharing company is in discussion with Sydney city councils to implement geofencing. However, the effectiveness of this measure entirely depends on the availability and accessibility of geofencing locations. Some may argue it contradicts the idea of “stationless” operations and forces users to return share-bikes to virtually defined bike stations by imposing additional charges for violation. Real space must be allocated and synchronised with information in mobile apps, users would experience much inconvenience if a parking area is fully occupied by share-bikes or other objects (e.g. an excavator). It also incurs additional costs to a user if a parking space is not sufficiently close to the user’s destination because the parking process results in longer travel time and potentially higher monetary cost. More financial investment is needed for the development of a geofencing system and the bike-sharing companies may be reluctant to implement this measure as it is likely to impact ridership.
In China, a real-name registration is required for a bike-sharing app account. It is designed to regulate user behaviours and to prevent bike littering and vandalism. However, it may raise serious privacy concerns as personal traffic data under real names can be traced with GPS on share-bikes. The effectiveness is also debatable as a more reliable identification system alone does not detect misbehaviours when they occur or identifies the actual person responsible for the misbehaviour.
Will Stationless Bike-sharing Succeed in Sydney?
- The cycling participation in NSW and Sydney has significantly decreased since 2011. The National Cycling Participation Survey 2017 states that 20.2% (95% CI: 15.8% - 24.5%) of City of Sydney residents ride a bicycle in a typical week. Note that the surveys were conducted prior to the introduction of bike-sharing in Sydney.
- Helmet issues: Australia is the first country in which wearing a bicycle helmet is mandatory. A failure to comply can result in a $330 fine. The harsh regulation sometimes curbs cycling participation and forces bike-sharing companies to provide matching helmets for every share-bike. Problems such as helmet theft and complaints about hygienic concerns may arise against the companies. A higher investment cost to the companies can translate into higher riding fees. The positive feedback system would significantly reduce profits for bike-sharing companies.
- Some argue that Australia's national culture would lead to a higher degree of vandalism. The Hofstede Insights model suggest Australia has a high level of individualism and a high level of indulgence. This means Australians may be more likely to realise their impulses for personal satisfaction. Bike-sharing companies might find it more challenging to manage their bicycles.
- Pricing: The pring for bike sharing in Sydney is relatively higher than other cities. For example, OV-Fiets in Amsterdam only charge 6.04 AUD (€ 3.85) per day and Mobike in Shanghai only charge 4 AUD (20 RMB) for a month. In Sydney, the original price was approxiamtely $2.5 per hour with 1 hour of minimum use and $5 cap per trip. The high price drove away many of the potential users since it is almost as expensice as a single bus trip. In April 2018, companies started to introduce monthly pass to Sydney to regain the customers. For example, Mobike offered a $7 per month and $15 per quater scheme. From observation, the using of Mobike started to increase in May with more mobike users in the CBD area and the University of Sydney.
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